Protecting rights to abortion care is the reason I am in the General Assembly today. That’s how I opened my May column, when we only had a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion indicating that, in spite of their assurances to the contrary, recently confirmed justices were prepared to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Just a few weeks later, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Dobbs decision, overturning Roe v. Wade, stripping women of the constitutional right to an abortion, effectively giving each state legislature control over the future of abortion access.
Thirteen states already had “trigger bans” on the books, ready to kick in soon after Roe v. Wade became obsolete. Since the June 24th Dobbs v. Jackson decision, ten states have banned nearly all abortions, with little but mostly no exceptions for rape or incest. You can bet that in the coming months, there will be more attempts to limit or outright ban abortion access across the country, including in Virginia.
Although Virginia’s Governor was seemingly non-committal on the campaign trail about his stance on abortion, he gave a clear signal of his intentions earlier this summer, encouraging members of the Virginia GOP to legislate an abortion ban as soon as possible and announcing a small group of legislators had been tasked with drafting a bill. With the General Assembly set to resume the 2022 Special Session 1 on September 7th, rumors are swirling that such a bill (or bills) will be introduced next month, in an effort to stir things up before the midterm congressional election.
With the Republican Majority in the House and the Democrats’ thin hold on the Senate, things aren’t looking good. The Governor has made it clear that he will sign any bill restricting access to abortion that reaches his desk. He has said he is looking for a 15-week ban but will settle for a 20-week ban — and that he thinks he can get some Democrats to go along and make such a ban “bi-partisan.”
Given that we are in Special Session only, we are only scheduled to be back in Richmond for a day, the prospects for navigating the procedural hurdles necessary to pass such a bill this fall seem dim. Passing it may not be the goal, though. The Governor may want the bill floating out there during the mid-terms to increase his personal profile and score him some hits on Fox News. Regardless of whether he tries to pull such a stunt in September or not, or how much traction he gains from it, we can expect to see a wide variety of anti-abortion bills introduced and debated during the upcoming 2023 legislative session. Some may even pass the GOP controlled House of Delegates.
For our part, I expect Democrats to introduce a Constitutional Amendment to codify the right to an abortion during the 2023 Session. Given the makeup of the General Assembly and the Governor’s push for a 15-week ban, it will be an uphill battle to get this passed in the House and the Senate. If it did pass, then it would have to pass the General Assembly again during the 2024 General Assembly Session. After passing this second time, then it would be on the ballot in November 2024, so that voters could decide if it would be included in the Virginia Constitution.
Recently, Kansas voters defeated an Amendment that would have ended the right to an abortion in the state. And the margin wasn’t small either, in fact, 58 percent of voters voted “No” on the banning of abortions in Kansas. That is a whopping 165,000 more voters than the other side received. I am hopeful that what happened in Kansas foreshadows how hard folks are willing to fight to protect their rights in other states. With states once again on the front line of this issue, I am even more committed to protecting abortion access in Virginia.
I am often asked what folks can do in the meantime. Voting for like-minded elected officials who support your shared values, including the right to abortion access, is crucial. Talking with your friends, family and neighbors about these issues can go a long way, as well. Also, donating and volunteering with organizations that promote or provide abortion access delivers direct aid to those who need it right here in Virginia. Aside from Planned Parenthood, there is the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project, Blue Ridge Abortion Fund, Hampton Roads Reproductive Justice League and the New River Abortion Access Fund.